The phrase subliminal messages or, subliminal stimuli, is not usually uttered in civilized company as it lets in a waft of unscientific conspiracy. By definition, subliminal stimuli means “below threshold”, i.e. sneaking message under one’s mental radar. The phenomenon has garnered attention through pop-culture references from music, film and possibly even TV. Given that its very nature is covert implies that these messages are not easy to find. Clandestine is built in to the very name, it is commonly known that attempts are made, at varying degrees of efficacy, to sneak additional message in between the obvious ones in advertisements and other visual mediums. So let’s talk about whether or not subliminal messaging is actually possible and what that means for business.
How the mind processes information
The scientific rationale is simple. All around us are Objective Stimuli. These are things/people/messages/images (or stimuli) we come across so frequently, that our minds give next to no attention to them. This is because we have the ability to consciously process something while retaining the ability to ignore it. For example, you don’t observe every single detail about every car that passes you on the street, you just process your relationship to each passing one and then promptly remove that information from memory. Then comes Subjective Stimuli. This is when your brain knows something before even being given any stimuli, for example, like asking someone the color of grass, or their name. Something you don’t need to confirm before answering.
When the mind is given stimuli, whether visual or auditory, no matter how minuscule, it gets processed. Whether or not it gets stored, is what makes the difference. Subliminal messaging is the act of sending information through Objective Stimuli such that it becomes part of subconscious and later becomes part of Subjective Stimuli e.g. Podcasts. The word “podcast” is a blend (or portmanteau) of “iPod”and “broadcast”, even though it is no longer limited to the Apple eco-system.
Another example, what percentage of the human brain works for the average human? 10%? That is a figure we have grown up just accepting even though there is no scientific research corroborating this statement. In fact, if you consult with Scientific America they will tell you how unsubstantiated this statement actually is since our brain does multiple things simultaneously enforcing it to function at varying capacities well above 10%
See it in action
Similarly, let’s do a quick personal survey and see what we come up with.
What is the first image that pops up in your head when you think of Afghanistan? Something like this?
Okay, how about Russia in the winters?
While those images might have coincided perfectly with your assumption, the first one is actually The Grand Canyon, the second one is Buenos Aires, Argentina. There are no subliminal stimuli in there, but I did just use subjective stimuli to mislead you. You didn’t perceive enough conflict with your assumption, so you accepted it. Instead of enforcing people to come to terms with new information, your brain can be tricked into re-imagining pre-existing information.
The proof of concept and its most common usage is in advertisement, if you visit this blog here, you’ll learn about subliminal messages in popular logos and how they help further their brand. Just so we’re clear, there is nothing illegal or even unethical about these scenarios.
Then there is classic conditioning; what is the flower you most associate with valentine’s day? Why? Can you draw a logical thread between the two? Which of the two is more evil, marijuana or alcohol? We’ll let you read this link to decide for yourself. One more example, what is your opinion of a devout conspiracy theorist? By definition, this is someone positing alternatives to the common narrative, however, we see them as extremely negative and disruptive. Where did this knee-jerk reaction come from?
Check out Brain Games for all the ways our minds can be forced to slip up. Examples below.
Another approach, though not as subliminal, but still pretty sneaky is when you smuggle a lie in between some truths. So, if I was to say something like The Playstation 2 was the highest selling console of all time, Toyota Corolla has decent resale value, iPhones are expensive, Nokia is working on an n-gage nex gen console, and Gmail is the biggest mail product since Hotmail, you could believe them all.
Most of those statements are verifiably true, so if I sneak in a lie about Nokia working on a game console, you will accept it because of its proximity to the truth. However, the core of most ideas is usually profitability. Let’s evaluate some popular use-cases and see what we can do about it.
Advertisers have, since the concept of advertising emerged, juxtaposed products with sexuality. Burgers are eaten sexily by supermodels who look like they haven’t even been in a room with a real burger in ages.
Sometimes, ads just straight out spell it.
If we go into individual examples, we’ll get a- too graphic and b- off topic. However, the challenge there is that you take something that your mind reacts to positively, associate it with a product/service and lead the customer to the purchase. The phrase “new and improved” is thrown around every time as it creates an itch/desire for something new and we start seeing our existing things as obsolete and insufficient for our needs.
How much of the computing market does Apple have? Their marketing would have you believe it is something close to 80%, 90%? It’s actually 6.3%. In order to inflate the impact of these numbers you will read articles that are titled something like “Apple moves from 5 to 4 in high-end laptop sales” (2019) or “Apple Dominates High-End Laptop Market” (2018). Even though that market share was 9.6% in 2018 for high-end laptops and is now 6.3% overall. Hardly dominating, yet, the title gives you the idea that they’re in complete control.
Subliminal Messaging Works in Politics
Keep in mind that the following, though verified information, is not something we endorse or support. However, we are still reporting on it in service to the article. We want to give you, our readers, a complete picture.
There has always been historical incentive in creating widespread animosity against the enemy even if it comes with the risk of misinformation. For a very interesting look at how it’s been done throughout history, read this link. This brings us to the highly controversial subject of Donald Trump. Ignoring the situation surrounding the actual elections, as that has little to do with subliminal messaging his entire campaign ran on defaming his opponent. The company that collected the data that helped Trump achieve victory through meticulously chosen phrasing that helped sway people’s minds against his opponent and got him the popularity he wanted.
There are entire communities dedicated to deciphering hidden sexual connotations in children’s cartoons. The assumption is that it corrupts young minds and teaches kids to be sexually active at a very young age (assuming that increasing sexual activity in children is on someone’s agenda).
You can find some questionable content (warning: possibly NSFW) in certain Disney movies and posters. Like things in the background one would have to be record-breakingly pedantic to find, but they definitely exist. The reason behind this could just be a bored animator, or it could be part of a larger agenda, that we don’t know.
So, are the proverbial “they” using subliminal messages in movies, music videos, and video games to alter our minds for “their” agenda? Hard to say, but can it be done? Certainly seems like it. Is it working? Perhaps, unless there are group studies on the subject, nobody can claim to KNOW the answers to these questions (hence “subliminal”). There are limitations to what information the general public can accept as valid. E.g. our brains do not automatically reverse music as it enters our ears, so, any alleged “satanic verses” in awesome rock ballads are probably not subliminal stimuli by design.
It is an established scientific fact that subliminal messaging works, precisely what you can achieve through it is still up for debate.
If you have a marketing team that figures out a way to convince people to favour your product without even knowing it, you’ve already unlocked a level of management prowess inaccessible to the masses.
Eventually, it comes down to how much you let external stimuli influence you. If you retain critical thinking, it might not be easy to sway you. So, even though there is plenty out there, ready to pollute your mind, you can choose not to let it influence you. Best not watch that much TV anyway.